Chapter Ten (Forty-Fifth Avenue)
It was foggy out in the Avenues. It’s always foggy out in the Avenues. Wind blew drizzle into my face. My hair wouldn’t stay combed right. I could feel it all pushed over to the wrong side and sticking up in back. I tried patting it down, but that just made it feel like it was sticking up all the more, so unless I wanted Ginny’s first impression of me to be a cross between Alfalfa and Dagwood Bumstead, I figured I’d better get out my comb and try combing it — which wasn’t really all that easy. I had these flowers, see, and there wasn’t a mirror anywhere.
There was a shiny silver doorknocker, however. Ha! I put the flowers between my legs, squatted down a little and got out my comb. The doorknocker was like a mirror in a fun house. First I was nothing but chin, then I had the longest, saddest eyes I’d ever seen and a tall, tall forehead, like a Pharaoh, and when I finally got to the top of my head, my hair kept sticking up in back, higher and higher, like it wasn’t ever going to stop.
Ginny pulled the door open. Her face was where the doorknocker had been. I was looking right into her eyes. She was looking right into mine.
“Hi,” I said, still all scrunched down with this bunch of snapdragons and chrysanthemums sticking out from my crotch and a long, white comb hovering over my head like I was maybe trying to do the Limbo and give myself a benign lobotomy at the same time. “Here. I got you these.”
I took the flowers out from between my legs and pushed them toward her chest. She didn’t take them. She just stood there.
She had on a torn red sweatshirt, a pair of worn out jeans with the cuffs rolled up and a pair of white, unlaced Ked’s with no socks. Three yellow barrettes held her hair in an unruly pile on top of her head, and her face was so pretty and perky and pesky and smug that I barely heard her when she crinkled up her nose and cocked her head over to one side and asked, “Are you supposed to be here?”
“I thought I was, yeah. Wasn’t I?”
“Gosh…maybe,” she said and took the flowers.
“You want me to make it some other time?”
“Oh, dear! This is awful. Okay, I know what. Here. Take these back.” She handed me the flowers again and I wished for the umteenth time that I’d never stopped off at Pete’s. “We’ll start all over. Come back in ten minutes.”
I drove down to Ocean Beach and listened to the radio. I don’t know for how long exactly, but I know it would have been for longer than ten minutes. Then I pulled the car up in front of her house again. That must have been when I left the lights on. I knocked on her door one more time. I didn’t care what the hell my hair looked like.
“Come innnn…” She dragged out the word like she was singing some kind of kid’s song, like we were still pretending I hadn’t already been there. I tried opening the door. It was locked. I knocked again.
It sounded like she said “instincts,” like I was instinctively supposed to know some secret way of getting the son of a bitch open. “I think it’s stuck,” I said.
“Bash it!” she yelled.
I bashed into the door with my shoulder, but it still didn’t budge. Then I turned the knob and bashed into it again and ended up sliding along like a surfer on a slippery little rug that almost sent me crashing into an umbrella rack and a stack of books on a little table under a mirror on the wall in her hallway. I expected Ginny to be standing there with a big grin on her face, but she wasn’t. She was in her bedroom with the door closed.
There was a sliver of light coming from under the closed door. A shadow passed through the light. I heard a drawer open. The shadow moved out of the light. A coat hanger rattled. A zipper zipped and unzipped. The slightest sound was amplified by my imagination. I could almost feel her putting things on and taking them off again. What sounded like a tube of lipstick tapped against what sounded like the top of a glass vanity table. An eyeliner brush popped out from an eyeliner bottle.
I put the flowers down, looked into the mirror, and was distracted by the daunting thought that she’d probably want to order drinks. What if the waiter wanted to see my ID? I was still only twenty. Ginny had just turned twenty-two. I was a little over a year younger than her. She didn’t know it, but I did. I also knew that as soon as I got her out to my car, everything would be fine.
I had it all pictured. Once we got to my car, she’d ease herself down into the understated luxury of those leather seats, and I’d maybe run the antenna up and move the passenger seat back…and when she heard the comforting hum of all those little electric motors moving things around, the last thing she’d be wondering would be who was older than who. She might even sort of snuzzle up against the side of my neck where I’d had the foresight to dab a little more of the Old Spice I kept in the glove compartment while I’d been listening to the radio down by the beach.
Ginny came out of her room wearing a red silk dress with tiny black buttons up the back. Her hair was thick and brown and curly. Bangs covered her forehead. She had to peek out from under them when she wanted to see. Her eyes were light, light blue…and green, and gray, and more amused than ever. What was so funny, I did not know. She took a long black coat out from the hall closet and handed it to me. My best guess was that she expected me to hold it for her. I held it for her. She slipped her arms into the sleeves of the coat and snuggled it around herself.
Ginny pulled the door closed behind us, turned toward the street and finally saw my gorgeous white Lincoln for the first time.
“Ooo, is that your car?” she asked in such a sweet little voice it almost sounded like she was cooing.
Overwhelming pride swelled inside me. “Yeah,” I said.
“Why’d you leave the lights on?”
I ignored her question, calmly opened the passenger door, made my way around to the driver’s side, got in, came up with a mental image of how everything was still going to be all right, turned the key in the ignition, and actually expected the engine to start. But it didn’t. I tried and tried, again and again. Pretty soon, all it did was click.
“Maybe we should call Triple-A,” Ginny suggested.
“I don’t have Triple-A.” I shook my head.
“Oh,” she said.
All the other things I didn’t have rippled the surface of my fragile confidence like someone had thrown a pretty good-sized boulder into it. I didn’t have anything. All the money I had in the world was wadded up in my pants’ pocket, and I was three years in debt for this piece of shit car that sat there clicking at me — telling me things I already knew. I was a kid. I sold cheap-ass shoes at a cheap-ass shoe store in the cheap-ass city of cheap-ass San Bruno for a living. My hair wouldn’t stay combed right. I was out of my league, in over my head, barking up the wrong tree — click, click, click, you dumb cluck — but the amazing thing was that Ginny didn’t seem to mind any of that. She seemed to sort of like it, in fact.
She probably felt like I did when I went out with someone like Norma Arce. Ginny knew nothing could ever really come of it, but she was intrigued. I was cute. I liked her. I made her laugh. What harm could it do? I wasn’t the sort of guy she’d ordinarily have anything to do with. That made me extraordinary. Ha!
We ended up taking Ginny’s big black Buick Roadmaster — one of those ones that used to have five little portholes on the sides. She had the seat up as far as it would go and still had to stretch some to reach the pedals. There were notes written in felt pen across the dashboard:
“Turn off Lights!
Ginny waved to the notes and laughed. “Don’t pay attention to any of that. Mother wrote it. She thinks I have brain damage.”
We went to a restaurant called Ripley’s. It was in North Beach. You had to go down some narrow stairs. There were red and white-checkered tablecloths on the tables and candles in glass goblets and a fog of cigarette smoke hanging in the air.
When Virginia moved to San Francisco she went through one of those underground gourmet guides and made up an alphabetical list of restaurants to go to when she went out on dates. Ripley’s was the next one on the list. I gave the alphabet a quick run through. Hey, it could have been Vanessi’s.
The guys she was used to going out with were “men” from Harvard and Yale and Stanford — guys who could afford to gamble the price of dinner at a fancy restaurant on the off chance it might get them into her good graces. She’d been a debutante. Her father grew up on an estate in Westchester County. They had a summer cottage in Newport. Her grandmother dolled out toilet paper from a locked cupboard, one square at a time. There was Frick money in the mix.
The maitre d’ seemed to have sized us up based on his impression of me rather than her, however, and led us over to a table by the kitchen door. That didn’t last long. After exchanging a few fidgety glances with a Filipino dishwasher, Ginny stood up, took me by the sleeve of the burnt-orange Orlon sweater I was wearing — along with a really cool burlap-colored button-down shirt — and marched me over to an empty table against the far wall.
I lit a cigarette, propped my napkin into a small tent and blew cigarette smoke through a flap at the bottom. The maitre d’ spotted us. He looked toward the table we had vacated, frowned and started walking toward us. Ginny rolled her eyes and shooed him away.
“He looks sort of mad.”
“Mad, schmad. He works in a restaurant, for God’s sake.”
“I never went out to dinner much. The only place my parents ever took us was to Hedge’s Wigwam. It was some fancy cafeteria-style place, up on Woodward Avenue, down toward Detroit.” I gave directions with my hands. “There was a wigwam on the roof.”
“Is that why you’ve made your napkin into a teepee? Or has it become fashionable to order wine by smoke signals?”
“Sorry.” I moved the napkin onto my lap.
“Don’t be sorry, dodo. If you want to make teepees, make teepees. Recreate the whole battle of the Little Big Horn if you want, but if you’re just nervous…”
“I’m not nervous,” I said nervously, a few words shy of telling her I wasn’t quite twenty-one yet, either.
“Have you ever read The Confidence Man?” she asked. “It’s just confidence. That’s all anything is. If you’re confident, whatever you do’s the right thing to do.”
“…and if you’re not?”
“Did you want to sit next to garbage cans?”
“No, but isn’t it okay to just let things happen the way they happen?”
“Oh, how very Zen and boring.”
“I was confident New Year’s.”
“I barely remember New Year’s.”
“I kissed you. At midnight.”
“Yeah. You kissed me back, like, sort of a lot. You don’t remember any of that?”
“Heavens, no. I have blackouts. I’m an alcoholic,” she said brightly. “There was some sort of mix up, I know. I was supposed to go out with Ronnie and Charles showed up — or the other way around. I forget. It was all terribly confusing. We ended up all going together. That’s the last thing I remember. Ronnie didn’t tell me much the next day. And Charles still hasn’t called. It’s been ages.”
“The other guy’s still around?”
“Ronnie? Absolutely. Yes. Ronnie’s not going anywhere.”
“What does he think about…you know…” I moved my hands at the wrists, trying to think of exactly the right words. “…you…going out with me?”
“He says I’m like the Mona Lisa.”
“You’re way cuter.”
“Thank you, dahling.”
“I don’t get that Mona Lisa thing, though,” I said.
“Ronnie doesn’t want to seem possessive. He says keeping me all to himself would be like keeping the Mona Lisa all to himself. Isn’t that sweet?”
“I guess,” I said and made a dismissive little gesture with my left hand. “But, to tell you the truth, it looked to me like they both wanted you all to themselves. The only thing that kept them from killing me was Elliot.”
“My friend. The guy in the uniform? With the Green Beret?” I pointed to my head. “He’s in Vietnam now. He’s supposed to be some big pacifist. He wore a mask over his mouth for a while so he wouldn’t accidentally kill any innocent gnats. Why he joined the army nobody knows.”
“That vaguely rings a bell. I think I remember him…your friend…Elliot. I remember thinking, ‘How romantic! Marching off to war.’ This is getting a trifle absurd,” she said in a soft, determined voice and called confidently across the room, “Yoo-hoo! May we see a menu, please?”
One of the waiters showed up. Ginny ordered wine. The guy didn’t ask to see my ID. She’d quietly taken over. It was like “My Fair Lady.” I was some uncivilized wretch she’d been given a once in a lifetime chance to study and refine.
When the wine arrived, she tasted it, smiled and said something to the waiter in French. I thought, uh-oh, she was going to send the wine back for some reason, like maybe just to show me it could be sent back, which only would have led to another chance for someone to ask to see my ID — but she didn’t. She did everything just right. Even the maitre d’ came by to see how things were going. Swimmingly, or some such thing, Ginny told him, also in French.
When it came time to order, I pointed to something in the mid to low price range. The waiter nodded his guarded approval. Then she started rattling off a whole slew of other things and the waiter kept getting more and more enthusiastic.
“Bon. Tres bon. Magnifique!”
Magnifique, my ass, all the money I had in the world would barely pay the bill and I’d just cashed my paycheck…well, fuck the car payment, this was worth it.
What I’d pointed to turned out to be duck. The only other time I ever ate a duck before was when my father shot one, and then I had had to be careful I didn’t chip a tooth on the birdshot still stuck in its flesh. The duck the waiter brought me had hot orange marmalade poured all over it, however, and I had no idea how I was supposed to eat the thing. If I tried to eat it with my fingers, it would have been like trying to eat a hot fudge sundae with my fingers, and if I tried using a knife and fork, the son of a bitch would have ended up in my lap — so I pretty much just made do with French bread dipped in hot orange marmalade sauce, and we took what was left of it and the rest of all the other stuff Ginny had ordered home with us in doggy bags.
Virginia slipped her arms out of her coat while I held it for her. A spark of electricity shot through my fingers. She kicked off her shoes and asked me to unbutton the back of her dress. I lifted her hair. There were freckles on her shoulder. And a mole. I told her about it. “You have a mole on your shoulder.”
“I know. I have one on my fanny, too. Ooo, rub right there.” I dug my thumb under her scapula. “Harder. Feel the knots? My shrink says I have neurasthenia.”
“Doesn’t that hurt?”
“No, it feels yummy. Down more…right there. Oh!”
“I can’t get any leverage.”
“I’ll put on my jammies.”
She’d been saying odd little things like that all night, things that made her sound like a four-year-old kid. Jammies. Fanny. Namby-pamby. Yummy. Mummy. Tummy. Tum. Tum-tum. Gads! Gadfrees! Dodo. Doo doo. Yow! Yowie, zow! Well, she went back and forth. At the restaurant she’d had to be efficient. With other guys she probably talked like a four-year-old kid all the time, but with me that wouldn’t have been practical. We never would have made it to the restaurant, for one thing, and if we had somehow made it to the restaurant, we wouldn’t ever have gotten waited on and never could have ordered wine. But now that we were back at her apartment she could finally be more herself again.
Ginny disappeared back into her bedroom. I put the doggy bags into her otherwise almost empty refrigerator — a bottle of ketchup, a jar of dill pickles, a couple of cartons of Chinese take-out, taco sauce. It crossed my mind that she went out on dates instead of going grocery shopping. The kitchen walls were shiny yellow enamel. Her mother had written all over them, too, only this time she’d had more room. The letters were gigantic:
“TURN OFF GAS!
TURN OFF LIGHTS!
Back in the living room there were books and records stacked in lopsided piles everywhere. In one corner, there was a prayer shawl stretched over a plank of driftwood perched across a couple of cinder blocks. Ginny called it her shrine. On top of the shawl, there were five or six votive candles in bumpy red glass candleholders, a few pinecones, some seashells, feathers, dried flowers and three pictures the size of post cards. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the pictures were of Virginia Woolf, Marcel Duchamp and Gurdjieff.
I sat down cross-legged on the rug. Ginny came out from her bedroom wearing a long white flannel nightgown. The nightgown had tiny blue roses all over it. She was carrying a lit candle. She used it to light the rest of the candles on her shrine. Then she went into the kitchen, got a bottle of Beefeater Gin and two pretty good-sized drinking glasses, turned on all four burners of the stove and turned out the bright kitchen light. She put the gin and the candles and the glasses down in front of me, then went over and sorted through one of the stacks of records. I filled our glasses and thought it was sort of slick that a girl named Ginny liked to drink gin.
“I feel like Bach,” she said.
“You don’t look like Bach.”
She smiled the sort of smile the remark deserved. She liked me. I could tell. She put on “The Magnificat,” rigged up the record player to keep playing the same record over and over and, finally, plopped herself down in front of me.
The room was aglow with a combination of eerie blue flames from the stove in the kitchen and reddish flickering flames from the candles. Under her nightgown, I saw a pair of white cotton panties. Her hair hid her face. She peeked out from under her bangs. We drank her gin and talked and touched each other’s hands, and the shadows of our hands flitted across the rug and flew across the walls like prehistoric birds. It was like we were telling ghost stories, like we were kids in a cave. I told her about the Leapies. The Leapies were little green florescent things I made up when I was a kid. They looked like clothespins and never did anything but leap. That was all they ever wanted to do. They lived in heaven. I sang her the song:
“La la-la…all is calm, all is bright.
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild.
Sleep in heaven, Leapies.
Sleep in heaven, Leapies.”
“How darling! Someone should make up a psychological test of how you hear things! What a good idea! Freudian hears! Don’t you usually like what you hear better than what people say?”
“It’s probably not a bad idea to know what was actually said sometimes, too.”
“You sound like a lawyer.”
“How’d you do that?” I touched the scar on the inside of her right wrist. I didn’t exactly want to get into a conversation about careers.
“With a broken bottle, I’m told. I was blacked out. Not very aesthetic, are they? Or effective. Tendons got in the way. You’re supposed to cut up and down, not across.” She demonstrated. “Live and learn, la la-la. From what I remember, it wasn’t that exciting. Or noble. Warranted, maybe. Noble, no.” She seemed to be talking to herself, nodding and shaking her head at the appropriate places. “I was at school. It was Christmas. I get funny around Christmas. I have since Daddy left. Roger knew that.”
“My beau. Ex-beau. Roger Singmaster. I was at Sarah Lawrence. He was in grad school at Brown. His father’s a partner in some big law firm. They live outside Philadelphia. His mother teaches French Lit at Penn. Roger was going to be a banker. He’d been going to be a politician but decided bankers had more influence. “He was charming and glib and confident, with intense dark black eyes and a shy, crooked smile — and the darlingest little cleft in his chin. We’d been dating for ages. We used to meet at a hotel across from Gramercy Park. It was all very tawdry. I had long luscious orgasms like melting Hershey Bars. Pigeons cooed on the windowsill. Mother adored him. We were supposed to get married. We were supposed to be in love. We were in love. Then I don’t know what happened.”
Her voice trailed off then came back, talking even more to herself than ever, “He went home for Christmas. It’s barely been a year. I stayed in the dorms. Everyone was gone. It was like Dickens. Empty hallways. Banging shutters — so I got drunk and took the train to Philadelphia and caused a big ruckus. His parents were conciliatory. His mother suggested that I might simply have been taking up too much of Roger’s time. His father talked about ‘the long term.’ I threw a brandy decanter through the dining room window.” She stopped.
“Yeah? And?” I said.
After a few blinks and a shivery start like she was half-asleep and woke up again, she went on: “The next thing I remember is waking up in bandages, with Mother’s voice on the phone, asking whether I thought she was going to be expected to pay for the rug in the Singmaster’s guest room.”
“What did he do? The Hershey Bar guy?”
“Roger? Nothing. Went back to Providence.”
“You haven’t talked to him?”
“He’s dating some boring Bryn Mawr psych major.”
“Then what what?”
“What happened after you woke up in bandages?”
“Mother had me carted off to some loony bin in La Jolla. They told her I was schizophrenic. Now she worries I’m going to blow up half the block every time I boil an egg.” She nodded toward the notes on the kitchen wall. “I stayed with Auntie Rose in Laguna. Her house was full of Vedanta swamis. Do you know about Sri Ramakrishna? My cousin’s a Vedanta nun. They have to be celibate, but all she ever thinks about is sex. Everybody goes around like Heloise and Abelard, aching for each other all day and all night. I wanted to be a Vedanta nun, but went to live with Daddy instead, and moved up here…and went back to school…”
“…and met me.”
“…and here we are. I’m sweating like a sow.”
“Want me to turn off the stove?”
“No. I like sweating.” She fanned herself with the hem of her nightgown and I felt warm, humid air wafting into my face and thought about how warm and moist it would be an inch or so inside the elastic of those girlish little white cotton panties.
We didn’t say anything for a long time. Reflections of the candles flickered in her eyes. Blurred shadows crossed her face. Her appearance changed. Her hair turned long and silvery, and her eyes disappeared from their sockets, and her skin looked old and leathery, like a shrunken head. Then, right in the middle of the huge, scary fantasy I was having, Ginny took a deep, sharp, bone-chilling gasp of breath into her chest. “Ahhh…” like that.
“What’s the matter?” I blinked.
“Nothing.” She couldn’t quite put it into words, but whatever it was wasn’t scary at all, it was good, really good, extra good, amazingly good. Then she seemed to be trying to say something else, but still the words wouldn’t come to her. She shook her hair away from her face and covered her mouth mischievously and laughed and looked at me, wide-eyed, enthralled, delighted, and finally whispered, “Gadfrees! You were glowing! You were like a god! Your hair was long and blond, and your eyes were shining like flames, and you were floating off the floor!”
At first it felt like I just wasn’t focusing right, but then it became clear that she really had changed — and this time what she had changed into wasn’t anything I could have described if we’d stared at each other forever. I blinked again and squinted and made a conscientious effort to try to see what the hell was really going on.
Virginia Good had somehow become someone or something I hadn’t ever dreamed of before. Her looking like a shrunken head had been understandable, at least — afterimages, me being pretty drunk myself, and all that — but this…I didn’t know what it was. A state of mind? The absence of a state of mind? Whatever it was, she was beautiful, utterly desirable and dangerous, like a bright, poison spider in a sparkling spider web — like a flower, a sublime, deadly flower.
“Do you know “The Rose?” she asked in a dreamy, faraway, tiny little girlish voice. Then she recited it to me in the same dreamy voice:
“O rose…thou art sick. The invisible worm,?
That flies in the night…In the howling storm:?
Has found out thy bed of crimson joy:?
And his dark…secret love…Does thy life destroy.”
“What made you say that?” I asked.
“Gadfrees! I was reading your mind. Was I? I was!”
What she had turned into was spooky. Yeah, she was drunk off her ass, too, probably even more drunk than me, but there was more to it than that. Her eyes had changed. She was deranged. She had no conscience or guilt or guile. She was barely human. She was, like, mythological, surreal, fantastic, bewitching, like someone or something you might see in a painting — someone who’d put a spell on you, someone you’d fall in love with forever if you got the chance, someone you’d have to be in love with no matter what.
The burners on the stove had been on for hours. The room was an incubator. Unexplainable chemical reactions were exuding from under her flannel nightgown, animal smells, feral stuff, musk…and in one great, blazing insight, I came to the inescapable conclusion that if there was ever a time to consummate what was going on between us, that time had come. I had to get her out of that silly little girlish nightgown…and what? Devour her? Eat her alive. Assimilate her. Get so close we couldn’t tell each other apart. Know her. Get her inside me; get me inside her.
Nor was it just my boyish imagination. Ginny wanted whatever was going on between us to get itself consummated pretty soon, too. It was like something really important was at stake, the continuation of the species, maybe, like if we didn’t hurry up and fuck, baboons and orangutans were going to beat us out of our evolutionary place on the planet.
“You were looking like a shrunken head,” I said.
“What?” She crinkled her nose and shook her hair.
“You looked like a shrunken head,” I repeated stupidly.
“That’s my soul. I have an old, shrunken soul.”
“That’s not true.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I’m not glowing. I’m not floating off the floor. And you don’t have an old, shrunken soul.”
“No. You have a beautiful soul. Everything about you is beautiful. I love you.”
The spell was shattered.
Holy shit! What was I saying? What had I said? I love you? Had I said that? No. What self-respecting baboon would stop in the middle of ensuring the species its evolutionary place on the planet to say, “I love you?” Humanity’s doomed. Orangutans rule.
“What does that mean?” Her eyes were huge. The question quivered with so many nuances of mirth and pity and hope and disbelief I couldn’t have come up with an answer if there had been one.
Then it didn’t matter anymore. She climbed over into my lap, and the candles were sputtering almost out and flaming up out of pools of melted wax as we rocked back and forth, kissing each other and hugging each other and undressing each other all at the same time until she finally tossed what was left of her nightgown toward the glowing kitchen and said, “I have little boobs.”
“You’re perfect,” I babbled.
She took off her panties, and I got out of the rest of my clothes, and we half stumbled and half carried each other into her bedroom and got under the covers, touching each other, touching each other everywhere all at once, all the time, not ever not touching each other.
Then the phone rang. Then it stopped ringing. Then it rang again. Then it stopped again. Then it rang one more time. It was a special ring. She had to answer it. It was Ronnie, the guy with glasses from New Year’s. Apparently, from what I was able to gather from Ginny’s end of the conversation, Ronnie had just eaten a can of garbanzo beans and something having to do with eating a can of garbanzo beans meant that he had to come over.
“Now?” I asked.
“It’s an emergency,” she said. Childlike mischief blazed in her eyes.
Hey, I had kind of an emergency going on at that point, myself. But Ronnie’s emergency took precedence. I started getting dressed. She didn’t. She stayed in bed. Under the covers. Still sweating. Still exuding. No god damn baboon was going to beat her out of her place on the evolutionary ladder. It was a bit unbearable, if you ask me, but no matter what meant no matter what.
The garbanzo bean guy got there. I turned off “The Magnificat” and told Virginia I’d call her and left with as much dignity as I was able to muster, which, under the circumstances, wasn’t much.
Then, motherfuck! My car still didn’t start. I’d forgotten all about it. Son of a bitch! All the money I had in the world had gone to fill Ginny’s refrigerator full of more doggy bags than I’d ever seen in one place before, and I still didn’t have Triple-A. I had to go back up and knock on her door again. The garbanzo bean guy had to come out and gave me a push.
My gorgeous white Lincoln coughed and sputtered and spit and finally started. I waved to the garbanzo bean guy in my rear view mirror and was on my way back to San Mateo again, telling myself that going out on a date with Virginia Good had been the stupidest idea I’d ever come up with in my whole entire life.
When I got up to Skyline, I remembered Pete’s directions and it dawned on me that I’d forgotten all about the fucking flowers. She’d forgotten all about the fucking flowers. The garbanzo bean guy probably found the fucking flowers on the table in the hallway and gave them to her when he got back from giving me a push. Fuck the fucking flowers, I wasn’t ever going to get a girl any god damn flowers again in my whole entire life if I lived to be a hundred and three.
When I finally got out of the fog and back onto the El Camino I started rethinking the whole thing. Maybe it hadn’t been such a bad idea, after all. We’d hit it off for the most part, hadn’t we? What the hell more did I want from a first date? We had our clothes off. We were in bed with each other. We were about as close as two people can get to fucking the fuck out of each other. I was god damn glowing, for Christ’s sake. I was like a god. I was floating off the floor — until I remembered the part about saying, “I love you.” That had been the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my whole entire life. I wasn’t ever going to tell any girl I loved her again if I lived to be a hundred and three.
Yeah, well, on the other hand, I mean, who knows, you know? Besides, she was drunk. She had blackouts. She probably wouldn’t remember a thing. Turning into my driveway was a relief. I looked on the bright side. At least my gorgeous white Lincoln had made it all the way home. I hadn’t gotten pulled over for drunk driving. I sat in the driveway thinking that the best thing to do would be just to add it all up — everything that might have been good about it or bad about it, smart about it or stupid about it, forgettable or unforgettable, lucky or unlucky, all of it — just add it all up and stick the whole shebang into that gigantic equation wherein whatever happens is for the best.
I kept on writing Ginny letters. She wrote me letters back. We corresponded, for another year or so. We talked on the phone and hung out with each other now and then. We got to be buddies. We saw Ingmar Bergman movies together. I took her over to Gordon Lish’s house a couple times. Kesey showed up once — sporting a brand new red, white and blue cap in the shape of an American Flag on one of his front teeth. Ginny thought that was sort of slick, but for the most part, between March of 1963 and March of 1964, I pretty much just bided my time.
She told me about different books to read and thought I might write a book about her someday. I told her I was going to write a book about her someday. She liked that. She wanted to be Zelda Fitzgerald; she probably was Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s just too bad she never found anyone like Zelda Fitzgerald’s husband to hang out with — someone who could capture her and captivate her and take her places and buy her things and keep her safe, someone who could love her forever no matter what. I tried, Lord knows. But I didn’t succeed. Nobody did.